Seven areas in Tulsa have the most gun crimes, analysis shows
BY CURTIS KILLMAN & CASEY SMITH World Staff Writers
Sunday, September 16, 2012
9/16/12 at 7:41 AM
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The bullet in Ernesto Mondragón's right arm is near the surface of his skin, a constant reminder of the robber who shot him through his bedroom door in 2007.
Since then, the Mondragóns have moved from their home in the 10900 block of East Fourth Street because his wife did not feel safe there. The neighborhood is approximately two miles north of 23rd Street and Garnett Road, the top of a pocket of firearm crime in east Tulsa.
The pocket is one of seven areas in the city that experienced the highest concentration of firearm crimes over the past three years, according to a Tulsa World analysis of Tulsa Police Department reports. Pockets of gun-related crimes are found in north, east and south Tulsa.
Police wrote 99 to 138 firearm-related crime reports per square mile in each of the seven areas between August 2009 and July 2012. The firearm-related crimes included assault, robbery and homicide. Police write a report for each victim affected by a crime, and the way a crime is classified in a report may change during an investigation.
Mondragón and his wife moved to Broken Arrow a few years ago, leaving the home where they had lived since 1980. His wife felt unsafe and emotionally strained during the years they continued to live in the house where Mondragón was shot, he said.
Mondragón, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, has made a full recovery. Post-shooting, he is not afraid but is now more cautious and aware of his surroundings.
"It makes you think that if you get up in the morning it's not a guarantee you will get back in bed at night," said Mondragón, 62. "It's a reminder longevity is not there."
Mondragón helped organize an Alert Neighbors group through the Crime Commission in his old neighborhood before he moved from the area - a move he described as "bittersweet."
Members of the Strait Neighbors alert group took a similar initiative to come together after Bob and Nancy Strait were attacked in their home in the 3300 block of Virgin Street on March 14.
Nancy Strait, 84, died the day after the attack, and Bob Strait, 89, died May 4. The couple were married for 65 years.
Strait Neighbors group members live on a high-traffic street with a lot of crime in the surrounding area, said Charles Wheeler, one of the group's organizers.
The neighborhood near Virgin Street and Harvard Avenue is located in one of the northern pockets with a high concentration of firearm crime, according to the World's analysis.
The Alert Neighbors group is breaking down barriers to overcome its biggest challenge: helping residents feel secure enough to call the police despite fear of retaliation, Wheeler said. Residents there find strength in numbers, coming together as neighbors with police, the Crime Commission and city leaders to help combat crime, he said.
"It's about being safety-conscious and responsible as a citizen," he said.
"Triple Beam" targets gun-toting gang members
Criminals who carry guns illegally drive the murders, robberies and assaults involving firearms, said Sgt. Dave Walker of the Tulsa Police Department's Homicide Unit. They steal firearms in burglaries or buy them through "straw purchases," where a buyer legally purchases a gun and then sells it to someone else, he said.
Walker said he would like to see parents and guardians act more responsibly by confiscating guns from minors and more maturity in those who carry guns illegally. He said longer prison sentences and higher bonds for people who are charged or convicted of illegal firearm possession would also help combat gun crime.
"In my perspective, we should put someone with (an illegal) handgun in prison longer than someone that manufactures methamphetamine," Walker said. "And that's not the case."
Overall, firearm-related crime citywide decreased about 16 percent during the past 12 months as compared to the period between August 2009 and July 2010, according to the World's analysis.
Over the past three years, the city has seen a decrease in firearm-related crimes largely because of the focus on removing firearms from city streets, Tulsa Police Department spokeswoman Officer Jillian Roberson said. The department's Gang Unit has removed 353 illegal firearms from city streets in the past two years, Roberson said.
Most violent crime occurs between acquaintances or individuals with some prior relationship, Roberson said. There is little random violent crime occurring, particularly when it involves firearms.
The Operation Triple Beam task force, with members from 11 agencies, also made a significant impact on crime in the city, Roberson said. The task force formed to combat gangs, firearms and drugs.
Firearm-related assaults dropped 38 percent during the 18-day Operation Triple Beam in August 2010, as compared to the 18-day period before the operation, a task force report shows. Gun-related crimes dropped 29 percent during the two-week operation in May 2011, as compared to the two-week, year-to-date average at the time, the report states.
The task force used a three-tier approach, Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Hunt said. The U.S. Marshals Service is among the 11 agencies that made up the task force.
Fugitive investigation targeted gang members with active felony arrest warrants; gun- and drug-crime investigation produced warrants on gang members; and active street patrol gathered live intelligence, he said.
"It's targeting the right gang members who are causing all of the havoc and gun violence in a particular area," Hunt said.
Operation Triple Beam became the national model for the U.S. Marshals Service's gang enforcement operations, he said.
A longtime north Tulsa resident, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, said Operation Triple Beam sweeps helped the area significantly. But firearm violence - which he called a "gun plague" - is still a problem in the area, he said.
The resident said he hears gunshots nightly and that nearby houses have been sprayed with gunfire in drive-by shootings.
"When I leave my house or come to my house I'm aware of everything," he said. "I'm not putting up with it. I have a lot of security on my house."
Tulsa city councilors whose districts encompass areas with the highest concentration of firearm crime point to a number of causes. They cite drug and gang activity, fear, vacant and dilapidated structures and the economy. More jobs would bring lower crime rates, they said.
Councilor Jeannie Cue said demolition of the Oakwood Apartments at 62nd Street and Peoria Avenue in late August was the beginning of a new chapter for that area. The apartment building was abandoned in 2009 and became a magnet for drug deals and other crimes.
The apartment site in south Tulsa is in one of the areas with the highest concentration of firearm-related crime in the city, according to the World's analysis.
The city is working with owners of other apartment complexes, businesses and homes in the area to upgrade structures and create a safer environment, Cue said. Empty properties increase the chance of crime in an area, she said.
Cue is also working to bring businesses, a clinic and more transportation to the 61st Street and Peoria area. Currently, a round-trip bus ride to St. Francis Hospital takes more than two hours, she said.
Cue praised the work the Police Department's Riverside Division and residents in the area are doing to promote safety there.
Councilors and police emphasized that law enforcement agencies need residents' increased involvement to make the community safer. Residents can report crimes anonymously through Crime Stoppers, Roberson noted.
Councilor David Patrick, whose district is touched by three pockets of firearm crime, said police can't help if they don't know about a crime.
"If there's a problem, call in," he said. "Don't just hide behind your doors and wait for someone else to call in."
Residents can report gun-related crimes anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 918-596-COPS or at tulsaworld.com/crimestoppers Cash rewards are paid for information about criminal activity leading to an arrest.
Firearm-related reports over the past three years
|Year 1 (August '09-July '10)||Year 2 (August '10-July '11)||Year 3 (August '11-July '12)|
|Robbery/Firearm||665|| 633|| 514|
|Homicide/Firearm||43|| 49|| 43|
|Total||1,633|| 1,508|| 1,367|
Statistics are based on Tulsa Police Department reports provided to the Tulsa World monthly and are estimates.
Original Print Headline: Tracking gun crimes
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471
Casey Smith 918-732-8106
Charles Wheeler puts a security sign in the ground in front of his home in Tulsa. Wheeler lives in one of the areas identified as having the highest concentration of firearm-related crime over the past three years. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Children play basketball outside a home near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue. Pictured outside the Odoms' home are Ryan Odom, 7 (left); his brother David Odom, 11; neighbor Deontaye Comauex, 10; Alyssa Odom, 10; and Dominique Noboa, 9. The 61st and Peoria area is among those a Tulsa World analysis identified as having one of the highest concentrations of gun-related crime. There are seven such pockets citywide. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World